Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – March 2020

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of An Old, Happy Dog by Dave Barry

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book with a range between a 4.5 and 5.0.  Additionally, one member gave the book a 3.5. The average of the ratings was 4.73.  One member said, “I don’t see how you can give the book anything but a 5.00.”

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 3.0 and 4.50. Additionally, two members gave the book a minus 1.0 and another member rated the book at 1.0. The average of the ratings was 3.80.

Review:

Discussion Highlights:
Members overwhelmingly enjoyed this book, and thanked the facilitator for this selection.  They were grateful to read material that made them laugh. Discussion usually ends around 11:15 a.m. but, most members stayed past noon to discuss the most important theme of the book—our pets and the joys they bring into our lives.  Members shared photos of their beloved pets.  It was an upbeat feel good discussion!

Positive Comments:
Many members had read Dave Barry’s work before and they were happy to discuss his writing style and humor.  The clubs spent some time answering the question, “How would you define a sense of humor?” Members have already recommended this book to others and will continue to do so.  One member is recommending the book to friends to help them lighten their load. Two members said their husbands heard them laughing and they inquired as to what they were reading.  Both husbands said, “May I have the book to read when you are done?”

All the members agree we need more humor in our lives.  Members agree that laughter is such a good tonic for our souls.  Almost all the members laughed throughout the book.  One member said she laughed on every single page. 

Members enjoyed this fast, easy read.  They thought Dave Barry provided excellent descriptions.   Most agreed his stories were hilarious.  

Some members without pets thought they learned a lot about the joys of pet ownership in this book. The group discussed all the lessons and attributes we can learn from pets such as: loyalty, unconditional love, comforting others, etc.  One member said her cat taught her patience and to keep it simple.  She stated that human nature always seems to complicate things, but that is not necessary.  Animals teach us to keep things simple.

One member thought the last chapter did not fit, but on later reflection, decided that the last chapter actually includes all the lessons from the previous chapters.

Everyone agreed the life lessons contained are important, but hard to maintain.  One member thought the theme of the book was to not be so judgmental.  One member stated that she did not read the book for the life lessons; rather she appreciated the book for its humor.  One member said every chapter taught her about love.

Several members agreed that Dave Barry’s work is not worthy of the next Pulitzer Prize, but his work is a valuable and important part of our ethos—and we need more of his humor in our lives.  Members who have read Dave Barry for decades are sad that he is aging and wonder if someone else can take his mantle.

Negative Comments:
(Spoiler Alerts)
The ending shocked members and some did not think this chapter fit well with the rest of the book.  Members felt the book was so uplifting until the end, which disappointed some members.  Several members skipped the last chapter because they did not know what was ahead and they wanted to leave the book on a high note.  One member was relieved to hear at club that Lucy did not die in the last chapter. 

One member thought Dave Barry’s best work is as a columnist.

Three members did not care for Dave Barry’s humor.  They did not find him funny. 

One member thought the premise of learning things from Lucy was a cute idea, but this book has already been written, multiple times.

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Dave Barry, please click here.

You can visit Dave Barry’s website here.

Dave Barry did an excellent job of explaining the activities he participates in for fun during the book, but if you wanted a visual of these activities, please check-out the videos below:

The World Famous Lawn Rangers in Amazing Arcola:

The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Stephen King,
Dave Barry, and The Rock Bottom Remainders
(The band is introduced and begins playing at 34:00):

Rafael Pi Roman interviews Dave Barry about his book Lessons From Lucy
(included in interview are adorable photos and footage of Lucy):

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – February 2020

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book with a range between a 2.5 and 4.5.  Additionally, one member gave the book a 2.0. The average of the ratings was 3.25.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 2.5 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.99.

Review:
The facilitator told the members that the author has several degrees which assisted her in writing historical fiction.  Chanel Cleeton has degrees in International Relations, Global Politics, and a Juris Doctor. In addition, Cleeton grew up in Miami, Florida.  She is a second generation Cuban-American who learned to speak Spanish before she spoke English.  Since childhood, she heard stories about Cuba.  She participated in the Cuban traditions and frequently ate Cuban food.

Discussion Highlights:
This novel created a lively discussion.  The facilitator did not have to ask many questions. The discussion covered the following themes; hope and exile, family expectations, and sacrifice.  The discussion included talking about the similarities and differences between Elisa & Marisol and Pablo & Luis.  We discussed the parallels between life in modern Cuba and life in pre-revolutionary Cuba. We discussed the attraction between Elisa & Pablo and Marisol & Luis.  We discussed whether or not Elisa and Pablo’s love was fueled by the urgency of the times.

One member had recently travelled to Cuba and shared photos of her journey.  She shared her impressions of modern Cuba.  The group thanked her for sharing!

Positive Comments:
Members loved the author’s descriptions of the Cuban landscape and architecture. The facilitator told the members that Reese Witherspoon selected this novel for her book club, Hello Sunshine.  Reese Witherspoon said she felt she took a vacation when she read this book.  Many members enjoyed both the historical fiction portions and the romance portions of the novel.

Members enjoyed the heavily researched part of the book.  Many members learned a lot about Cuba in 1958-59 and present day Cuba. 

One member submitted a character list prior to the groups reading the novel and everyone was thankful for the list.  A few members were very interested in what would happen next to several minor characters.  They wished the author included this information, but understood the book would have been too long and too tidy.  One member thought the author did a great job defining the characters considering the plethora of them.

Three members enjoyed Next Year in Havana so much; they read Cleeton’s next novel, When We Left Cuba. These three members enjoyed this second novel. This novel features Beatriz Perez, a character introduced in Next Year in Havana.  Most members do not plan on recommending this novel to others and they will not be reading When We Left Cuba.

Members enjoyed the storyline and found it a painless way to learn about Cuban history. 

The facilitator thought the author was insightful in the way she created the revolutionary character using a nuance approach.

Negative Comments:
Several members thought the author included too many characters. Members found the plot very contrived, but understand this is a fictional novel and the author worked on creating a connection between the characters from both time-lines.  Several members stated they did not like the romance part of the novels.  The facilitator told the members that the author started as a romance writer and evolved her writing to include history and politics.  The author has said that she will probably always include romance in her books, as romance is very much a part of life.

Regarding the historical elements of the novel, several members thought Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire did a better job of conveying life in Cuba under Fidel Castro.  However, Waiting for Snow in Havana is a nonfiction book and therefore is probably more obligated to be accurate.  Members agreed that Next Year in Havana covered a larger timeframe.

Facilitator’s Favorite Quote:
“You never know what’s to come.  That’s the beauty of life.  If everything happened the way we wished, the way we planned, we’d miss out on the best parts, the unexpected pleasures.”—Chanel Cleeton

Resources:
For books and audiobooks in our collection by Chanel Cleeton, please click here.

Visit Chanel Cleeton’s website.

Chanel Cleeton talks about her heritage and Next Year in Havana:

A photographic tour of Old Havana in Cuba in 2018:

Read-a-Likes: 

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – January 2020

Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book with a range between a 2.0 and 4.5.  Additionally, one member gave the book a 0.5 and another member rated the book at 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.16.  

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 0.5 and 4.0. Additionally, one member gave the book a zero and another member rated the book at 5.0. The average of the ratings was 2.76.

Review:
Alan Bradley was born in 1938 and learned to read at an early age.  He worked as a radio and television engineer and later helped developed the broadcasting studio at the University of Saskatchewan, where he was director for twenty-five years. He took an early retirement and began writing short stories for literary magazines. In early 2007, he entered the Debut Dagger fiction competition and won.  The fifteen submitted pages would become The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  This mystery is the first of ten, so far.  Bradley was sixty-nine when The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was published.  His story is so encouraging! It is never to late to work to complete our goals!  And, it is never too late to write our stories!

Discussion Highlights:
The groups discussed what Alan Bradley said in an interview, “I don’t think we trust children enough anymore or leave them alone enough…I recall being that age, and one of the greatest blessings was being left to myself.  You find you own interests and amusements and pursue them.”  We discussed whether kids today are given enough freedom and whether or not Flavia is given too much freedom.

We discussed the twists in the plot, our favorite scenes, and the most amusing dialogue.

Positive Comments:
Some members enjoyed the witty dialogue and delightful descriptions.  Some members loved the charming setting and interesting characters.  Members did think the author wrote wonderful descriptions.  Some members thought the writing should be tighter.  Some members were reminded of their childhood and more innocent times in history.

The facilitator read the book over the holidays in a cozy chair at home sipping hot coffee. She laughed and smiled while reading the book as time delightfully slipped away.  She found the book just what it claimed to be: a wonderful entertainment. The facilitator fondly remembered her childhood with long days spent bicycling, practicing slights of hand, playing in the forest and prairie, collecting nature samples, using a chemistry set and microscope, and plenty of time just to imagine.  She thought the book was an exceptionally pleasant read!

Negative Comments:
Many members thought the book was formulaic and totally unrealistic.  With only twenty-five pages left, one member thought it wasn’t even worth the effort to finish.  Members couldn’t swallow the premise that an eleven year old girl could have such freedom around town and access to chemical compounds.  They thought that Flavia was too young to have such an understanding of chemistry and poisons.  They said, “Who would let their eleven year old romp around the village with a potential killer on the loose.” Many members thought the story was boring; they did not want to leave more thought-provoking reads to read this dull story. Many members thought this book should be classified as a Young Adult/Teen read. Most members will not recommend this author to other people and they definitely won’t read another Flavia de Luce mystery.

Often when the ratings are so low the facilitator will justify the selection and tell the members why the book was selected.

In this case, members have requested entertaining, easy reads over the holidays. 

Additionally, this book has received many awards such as; the Barry Award for Best First Novel (2010), the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel (2010), an Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2010), the Dilys Award (2010), the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel (2010), the Agatha Award for Best First Novel (2009), the CWA Debut Dagger (2007), and a Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction & Mystery/Thriller (2009)

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Alan Bradley, please click here.

Visit Alan Bradley’s website.

Penguin House Canada introduces Alan Bradley and his Flavia novels:

Listen to these interviews with Alan Bradley about how he created the delightful, spunky Flavia de Luce novels.  He talks about how he came up with the creative titles and how his Flavia is a gift from the universe.

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – December 2019

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 3.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.81.  

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a -1.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.13.

Review:
Susan Orlean is known for her top-notch research skills and the ability to weave together disparate threads into an informative, interesting, narrative nonfiction book.  She covered many topics in The Library Book; from the history of LA library system and its many departments, the building of the Central Library, the account of LA Central Library fire and the mystery surrounding the fire.  Orlean also covered the concept of a book having a soul and how the burning of books destroys a culture’s very existence and history.

Discussion Highlights:
The groups discussed the role of libraries throughout our lives. We discussed the various roles that libraries and books play in the health of a community.  We discussed the history of libraries and the various departments.  We discuss new ideas and initiatives for libraries of the future. 

In chapter 5, Orlean writes that books “take on a kind of human vitality.”  The groups attempted to answer the following question: What roles do books play in our lives and do we anthropomorphize them?  We discussed wrestling with the idea of giving books away.  Additionally, we discussed a fire’s impact on a culture and its ideas.

Positive Comments:
Many members loved the book and they have already recommended it to friends. Some members enjoyed the structure of the book and felt like the author created interest by weaving together threads of each storyline throughout the book.  Members who liked the book found it educational and informative.  They commend the author for her tremendous research.

The facilitator thought of the book as a great tribute to the good work libraries do each day. Susan Orlean says, “All the things that are wrong in the world seem conquered by a library’s simple unspoken promise: Here I am, please tell me your story; here is my story, please listen.” “This is why I wanted to write this book, to tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine, and houw that feels marvelous and execeptional.”

“It <the library> declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.”

Negative Comments:
Facilitator Preface: Some members enjoy nonfiction books, but most members like fiction books better and rarely read nonfiction books.

Many members disliked that author went back and forth in time.  They felt this led to a disconnected read and it made the reading more difficult.  Many members like stories told in a linear fashion.  They felt the story was choppy due to the back and forth structure.

All the members are strong advocates for libraries and love libraries. They were disappointed that they did not love the book because they want to promote libraries. They had high hopes for the book. They did not care about the LA Library and many thought if they story was about Chicago they might have been more engaged.  Many members said the story just didn’t grab them.  They didn’t care about solving the arson or about Harry Peak.  They didn’t like the pace or the structure.  Members thought the book was too comprehensive and the author tried to cover too many people. One member said if she had to take a quiz on the book, she would flunk.

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Susan Orlean, please click here.

Listen to the dynamic interviews below to discover how Susan Orlean came to write
The Library Book.

Susan Orlean kicks off her tour with an interview with David Ulin at the LA Central Library.

For photos of the Central Library, please take a look at the Central Library website.  The Art and Architecture of the Central Library is magnificent.

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – November 2019

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 3.0 and 4.5. The average of the ratings was 3.86.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 1.5 and 4.0. The average of the ratings was 3.47.

Review:
Sujata Massey’s novel is one in which many subgenres overlap.  The Widows of Malabar Hill combines a traditional mystery with domestic fiction, historical fiction, and legal thriller. The main character, Perveen Mistry, was inspired by Cornelia Sorabji, the first female graduate of Bombay University, the first woman to study law at Oxford University, and the first woman to practice law in India.  She was disturbed by the lack of legal representation for purdahnashins, women who were forbidden to interact with the outside male world.  Cornelia Sorabji drew attention to the injustices these women faced when their husbands died—this issue drives the plot of The Widows of Malabar Hill.

The Widows of Malabar Hill moves back and forth between 1916 and 1921.  In 1916, Perveen Mistry falls in love and marries Cyrus Sodawalla.  Due to customs at the time, she leaves her home in Bombay and moves in with her husband’s family in Calcutta.  Perveen and Cyrus are Parsi, or Persian, whose descendants were followers of the Zoroastrian religion.  In her in-law’s home, Perveen is forced to stay in an 8 x 12 foot cell once a month during binamazi.

The author writes a compelling mystery that offers rich cultural insights.

Discussion Highlights:

Positive Comments:
Most members knew very little about purdah, binamazi traditions, and the Parsi culture before reading this mystery.  Members really enjoy gaining knowledge and insight about cultures and religions different than their own.  The facilitator commented that readers were spoon-fed a lot of historical information in an interesting way—it is always exciting to learn new things without having to work hard to digest information.  Members appreciated the research the author executed in the novel. Many members enjoyed the rich details and loved hearing about the food.  They were excited when the facilitator showed them Massey’s website which includes recipes from the book. 

A few members really liked the book and plan to read her next books.  Some members and the facilitator thought the structure of the book was ideal to tell Perveen’s story and help the reader understand what created this compassionate woman.  The back and forth structure also creates interest. Members respected Perveen and her father; they appreciated their relationship. The contextual clues are so spot on, the reader does not generally need to look at the glossary provided.  Most members agreed that they gained insight into a culture and its rich history.

Negative Comments:
Many members thought the beginning was challenging. The complete title of the book is The Widows of Malabar Hill: A Mystery of 1920’s Bombay, so readers were expecting a mystery to unfold right away and when it didn’t they were disappointed.  Members did not like that the author moved back and forth from 1916 to 1921 and they felt the glossary did not help with any terminology.  Many members had difficulty with the names and one member renamed all the characters to read the book.

Further Discussion:
The group discussed the religious differences between the two families of the same faith.  We discussed the difference between modern and orthodox religiosity.

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Sujata Massey, please click here.

See the interviews below to discover how Sujata Massey became interested in the story.

Please visit Sujata Massey’s website to learn more about Cornelia Sorabji, the historical figure who was the inspiration for the Perveen Mistry character.  Additionally, Sujata Massey’s website contains photos from real places in the book and Indian recipes.

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club

The After Party – Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break – October 2019

Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussion Groups on
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 1.5 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 3.51.  

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 3.0 and 5.0. The average of the ratings was 4.23.

Review:
For the past seven years during the fall, the book clubs have read selections from the Suburban Mosaic, an organization that “seeks to confront issues of racial and social justice and promote cross-cultural understanding through literature.” (http://www.suburbanmosaicbooks.org/

This 2018-2019 season, Suburban Mosaic selected the nonfiction book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal-practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.  One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinkmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming-of-age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.  Just Mercy is soon to be a major motion picture starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

Last year, during the 2018-2019 book club season, the facilitator selected The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, and Varina by Charles Frazier. (See previous posts for more information about these books)  During these clubs, the facilitator and other members brought to light some of the work that Bryan Stevenson has done at the Equal Justice Initiative.  In an attempt to expose the members to different material, the selector chose An American Marriage as a fiction substitute for Just Mercy.  Tayari Jones attempts to cover different ground by showing readers how mass incarceration affects the family unit, specifically a marriage.

Discussion Highlights:
Club members discussed the title and the cover art. We discussed whether or not the title represents the novel and what about the novel makes it a particularly “American.” Several members thought the author did an excellent job portraying the state of marriage in modern day America.  The novel shows the various states of marriage and the author also shows a couple deciding not to marry, but live in “communion.” The author describes the different stages of romance through various characters—the readers are exposed to first dates, engagements, marriage, divorce, second and third marriages, love affairs, etc. The author did an excellent job in attempting to describe love and marriage—a nearly impossible feat.  The members thought Tayari Jones wrote a well-written, thought-provoking novel that has readers talking about important topics. 

The facilitator told the group members that other book clubs have gotten into fights defending the actions of one of the three main characters.  Book club members have taken sides about what they thought each character should or should not have done. One all male book club disputed the actions between Andre and Roy.  Many in this group felt Andre broke the “bro code” by having relations with Celestial, who was married to his best friend, Roy. 

The group members at the Rolling Meadows Library treated each other very considerately and respectfully.  We talked about the three alternating perspectives in the novel—Celestial, Roy, and Andre. We talked about which perspective we responded more positively towards.  The members felt Tayari Jones wrote vivid three-dimensional characters, which is why readers are responding strongly to the different characters she brought to life.

Celestial’s view of love: (pp.138)
“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.  Roy came into my life at the time when I needed a man like him.  Would I have galloped into this love affair if I had never left Atlanta?  I don’t know. But how you feel love and understand love are two different things.  Now, so many years down the road, I recognize that I was alone and adrift and that he was lonely in the way that only a ladies man can be.  He reminded me of Atlanta, and I reminded him of the same. All these were reasons why we were drawn to each other, but standing with him outside of Maroons, we were past reason.  Human emotion is beyond comprehension, smooth and uninterrupted, like an orb made of blown glass.”

Tayari Jones attempts to show how marriage is like a tree (the family unit) and the bride and groom are like a sapling.  Marriage attempts to bond two different families into one unit—the next generation, “But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch.  You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.” (pp. 4)

Unfortunately, Roy’s prison term ramps up the already present friction between Celestial and Roy and it becomes evident that: “Our marriage was a sapling graft that didn’t have time to take.” (pp.284)

We discussed the structure of the novel, which at times is told through the exchange of letters.  Many members enjoyed this structure. Some members wished the letters were dated; others members felt the author made a good choice in not dating the letters because this allowed for the lengthy passage of time with regards to the incarceration. In the interviews below, the author chose letter writing to eliminate some of the mundane aspects of prison life and to protect the reader from the violent aspects of prison life.  The author wanted her novel to have wide readership, and she felt a dark, gritty prison read would not have wide appeal. She hopes more people will read her book, enjoy talking about the love triangle and will begin to ponder the effects mass incarceration has on the wider community.

In an interview, Tayari Jones did she said, “I don’t see how our prison system is working for anyone—not the people who have committed crimes, not the victims, not the tax payers.  Nobody is winning here.” We discussed whether or not the novel illustrated this point and whether or not our opinions on the American prison system changed after reading An American Marriage.  Many members felt that they did not learn anything new about the prison system, but agree with Tayari Jones’s view.

We talked about Celestial’s business and the symbolism behind the baby dolls she creates.

Without including any spoilers, we talked about the incredibly important person Roy meets while in prison.  Several members thought this was an interesting plot device and other members felt it was too contrived. Even the author was surprised that Roy met this person.  Tayari Jones does not write with an outline; she likens her style of writing to this metaphor: she is the driver in a car with the characters in her novels. As they travel along in the car, her characters make decisions and she lets them, but sometimes she has to take control of various situations. Members enjoyed Tayari Jones’s writing style and would definitely read another book by the author.  A few members disliked the book because it was too contrived and written like a “Lifetime Movie”.

We talked about the two major twists at the end of the novel.  Most members felt the author did a great job of tying up the loose ends.  Although it is not a fairy tale ending—the novel ended in a hopeful manner giving each character dignity.

Resources:

For books and audiobooks in our collection by Tayari Jones, please click here.

Tayari Jones speaks about the inspiration behind An American Marriage:

Tayari Jones talks about letter writing, her love of The Odyssey, and mass incarceration:

Tayari Jones talks about her love of bookstores; she says with every book you can visit a different world and meet new people.   Tayari Jones talks about one of her favorite authors, Toni Morrison. Tayari Jones admires Toni Morrison so much that she has soil from Toni Morrison’s homeland in a jar in her office.

Read-a-Likes:

Members highly recommended watching the film If Beale Street Could Talk, based on the novel by James Baldwin.

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party – Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels – September 2019

Morning Book Break and Books and Bagels Book Discussion Groups on
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Ratings:
The Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0 with two members giving the book a 3.5. The average of the ratings was 4.62.  Two members did not like the humor and thought nothing could be funny when you consider the trauma Eleanor suffered.

The Morning Book Break Book Discussion Group rated the book between a 4.0 and 5.0 with one member giving the book a 3.0. The average of the ratings was 4.53.

Review:
In the seven years the facilitator has been conducting these clubs, this book received the highest favorable ratings. The author masterfully wove pathos and humor together, which is a very difficult task. Members have been recommending this novel to everyone.  Everyone rooted for Eleanor and we were not disappointed. Terrific life lessons were presented in the novel, such as; kindness creating a ripple effect in the community and kindness working its own kind of magic.

Discussion Highlights:

  • Club members like that Honeyman developed a good friendship between Eleanor and Raymond. 

We discussed the qualities in Raymond that allow Eleanor to feel comfortable with him which created an atmosphere for her to open up. They were thrilled that Honeyman did not end the novel with a romantic Hollywood ending instead Honeyman allows the relationship to develop naturally, displaying how the two main characters support each other.

  • Honeyman makes a point to show how small acts of kindness have a ripple effect. Raymond insists that Eleanor help Sammy, an old man who has fallen in the street, and at first Eleanor is put off and judgmental, but this is the beginning of her growth. This simple task of helping another changed her life. In the Books and Bagels Book Discussion Group members shared small acts of kindness that were significant to them.  The book points out that not all scars are visible and that kindness works wonders.
  • The novel sheds light on mental illness, depression, survivor guilt and how judgmental people can be. It highlights emotional abuse, physical abuse, and child neglect.  The group discussed Mummy and the effects she had on Eleanor. We discussed why Eleanor continued her weekly phone calls with Mummy.
  • We discuss the meaning of the title.
  • Members discussed the trauma Eleanor experienced as a child and how she easily developed a teenage crush on the musician, Johnnie.  
  • The clubs spent a lot of time discussing the final plot twist. Everyone was surprised by the ending and this evoked even more sympathy and understanding for Eleanor.  The members discussed Honeyman’s skillful writing and her use of red herrings in the novel to create suspense. As members read the novel, they thought Eleanor’s Mummy was either in prison or a mental institution or possibly it was a voice in Eleanor’s head.  Honeyman wrote the novel in the first person, so Eleanor is an unreliable narrator which helps to create further mystery and suspense. Readers tried to figure out what might be going on with Eleanor. Was she on the spectrum? Did she have OCD? Did she hear voices? 
  • The author wanted to braid two related ideas together.  The first was the idea of loneliness and the other strand was that of social awkwardness. “I realized that I wanted to tell a story about someone like this, or, rather, someone who’d ended up like this, living a small life. A lonely person, a slightly awkward person, and someone in whom loneliness and social awkwardness had become entwined and self-perpetuating.  I wanted to tell the story of how this had happened to her, and of what happened to her next, and this became the story of Eleanor Oliphant.” The author explores reasons that explain a person’s awkwardness. “Might there perhaps be something in their background or childhood experiences, some life event that had helped to shape them in this particular way?” We discussed whether or not the author was successful in her purpose and we also discussed the question of nature versus nurture. We discussed whether or not, Eleanor would be socially awkward if she had not had a traumatic childhood.
  • We discussed some of the funniest moments in the novel.  Due to the fact that Eleanor had an abusive childhood, two members did not find anything funny about the novel. Because Eleanor is blunt and has few filters she exhibits moments of astute social commentary, so we discussed these moments.  We discussed what factors contribute to her unconventional personality.
  • We discussed the main theme of the novel, which seemed to be: “I suppose one of the reasons we’re able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.” The book has a wonderful joyful message which is why it is resonating with so many readers.
  • We discussed how Glenn the cat is a metaphor for the change Eleanor experiences and how the simple act of caring for others nurtures us and a healthy cycle is created in society.

Resources:

Gail Honeyman sends a thank you to libraries and librarians:
Interesting Podcast, Gail Honeyman shares in-depth about the UK newspaper article about loneliness in young people and how she incorporated this information into her character, Eleanor.

Read-a-Likes:

Book Club, RA Programs, Read-a-Likes, reader's advisory

After Dinner Mints

Just Desserts Discussion Group talks about
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

This month’s fiction book is Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Mr. Krueger is an American author and crime writer. He is also the author of the Cork O’Connor series of thirteen books. All of his novels are set in Minnesota. William knew that he wanted to be a writer back in the third grade. He wakes up every morning at 5:30 and goes to a nearby cafe’. At the cafe’, he drinks coffee in “his” booth while writing long-hand in wire bound notebooks.

Our story takes place in 1961 in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota. Our narrator, thirteen year old Frank Drum tells us the story of how in one summer the town experiences an accidental death, a natural death, a suicide, and a murder. This one summer is engraved in Frank’s mind because four deaths in one summer is unheard of for this small town. The young girl that was murdered is Frank’s eighteen year old sister, Ariel, who was heading to college in the fall.

We follow the murder investigation through Frank’s eyes. Frank also has a younger brother, eleven year old, Jake, who has stuttered his whole life. These two young boys are brothers and very best friends.

They adore their sister and want someone brought to justice for her death.

It is also a story about grief. How grief can change an entire family and even an entire town for that matter! For many families, the death of a child tears them apart forever. Why do bad things happen to good people? How could this happen and who is to blame?

We meet many of the townspeople and the author gives us a few “red herrings” as we discover a murderer. William Kent Krueger is a great writer! Ordinary Grace is his first stand-alone novel.

I would also like to thank the Just Desserts book club for a great discussion and 100% attendance by the whole group! I am so thankful for each and every one of you! See you in January for Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things!

Ordinary Grace

 

Book Club, reader's advisory

The After Party—Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break—September 2017

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Books and Bagels and Morning Book Break Book Discussions on
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Rating: In Morning Book Break, the book received ratings between a 1.0 and 5.0+.  The average of the ratings was 4.43. Thirteen members gave the book a 5.0. This was an unusually high rating as compared to past selections.

In Books and Bagels, the book received ratings between 4.5 and 5.0+. The average of the ratings was 4.92. Ten members gave the book a 5+.  This book received the highest ratings ever for this club.

Review:

Books and Bagels:  Members fell in love with the Count and paced their reading to allow the magical experience to continue. Members did not want their time with the Count to end. The members were simply delighted with the compelling, witty language used by Towles.  Many members stated that the Count was their favorite character that has been presented in a fictional novel.  Fortunately, we had a member share some actual experiences of living under Soviet control and although members agreed the novel unrealistically portrayed the house arrest of the Count, overall, the fictional story was enlightening and engaging. Members have been recommending this original, humorous novel to their friends and family.

Morning Book Break: Members really enjoyed the Count.  He was human, caring, and likeable. Many members felt like the Count was their friend and thought this was a remarkable achievement for Towles.  Many members felt like the novel engaged them directly. The author was masterful in creating a well-developed story line which wove in the history of the Russian Revolution without being too preachy. Many members have been recommending this enchanting, accessible novel to friends and colleagues.  Several members barely tolerated the novel and found the narrative to be way too long and too descriptive.

Discussion Highlights:

Discussion centered on the characters presented within the novel:

  • The protagonist,  the Count and his amazing attributes and transformation
  • His suicide attempt and the effect of the handyman and the bees
  • Nina—the Eloise of the Metropol
  • Friendship between the Count and Nina
  • Nina as an agent of change
  • Sofia’s influence on the Count
  • The Count’s decision to get Sofia out of Russia, while remaining behind
  • Anna—the Count’s lover
  • Did you expect the ending? In your mind how does the story end?
  • Triumvirate—Andrey, Emilie, and the Count
  • Mishka, Osip, & Richard and their perspectives on the meaning of the revolutionary era
  • Douglas Smith of the Wall Street Journal wrote in his review: “Over four million people perished from famine in the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930’s…To flippantly refer to this moment as “unkind”…speaks to a disturbing lack of empathy and even moral imagination.”  We discussed whether the author was successful in balancing the Count’s life under house arrest with what was actually going on in Russia. This was a very interesting discussion as we also discussed the role of fiction in conveying historical events.
  • We discussed to what extent A Gentleman in Moscow is a novel of purpose.
  • Discussion on the Structure & Layout of the novel
    • Role of footnotes—helpful or distracting
    • The majority of the novel is told in third person from the Count’s perspective.  There is, however, an overarching narrator with a different perspective.  This narrator appears in the footnotes, Addendums, and the historical introductions of 1930, 1938, and 1946. We discuss the differences between this narrator’s POV & tone and the Count’s.
  • Amor Towles created quite a structure that incorporated the passage of time in a complex way. We discussed how this affected our reading of the novel.
  • We discussed the significance of Casablanca.

Resources:

For other books by Amor Towles in our collection, please click here.

http://www.amortowles.com/

Watch Becky Anderson of Anderson’s bookstore located in Naperville interview Amor Towles.
A Gentleman in Moscow was her favorite book of the year.

Read-a-Likes:

A Gentleman in Moscow

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Book Club, reader's advisory

After Dinner Mints – The Dish on Just Desserts – September 2017

after-dinner-mints

Just Desserts Discussion Group talks about
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This month’s fiction book is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale, Night Road, Firefly Lane, True Colors and Winter Garden.  She is a former lawyer, who started writing while pregnant and on bed rest with her son. Writing soon became her obsession and she’s been writing fiction ever since.

Our choice for this month is an epic love story/family drama set in France at the beginning and duration of World War II. Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads to war to defend France. Vianne and their daughter, Sophie, don’t believe that the Nazis will invade their small town of Carriveau. But they do invade and live side by side with the French citizens. Vianne is forced to make choices to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s rebellious sister, Isabelle, is searching for a purpose in life.  She joins the Resistance with a young man named Gaetan. They never look back, while risking their lives to save others. Isabelle is young, beautiful, and brave.

Their father, Julien, sends Isabelle to the country to help Vianne and Sophie survive the war. Their relationship is tested, but so is their strength and their abilities to tell right from wrong. The French people are being forced to accept a life filled with starvation, cold, and horrible treatment of their friends and neighbors, who are Jews.

Our story is told with courage, grace, and insight. We all hope that this is not Kristin Hannah’s last historical fiction novel. The group agreed that her writing is very visual. The novel would translate into a memorable film. In fact, several members thought that this was one of the best novels that they had ever read. I agree!

Pick up The Nightingale for yourself! You will find yourself getting lost in Vianne’s and Isabelle’s stories. It illuminates a part of history rarely seen: the women’s war in World War II France.

The Nightingale